For over 300 years of its history the Philippines were a colony of the Spanish empire, with them they brought over their religion, their culture and clothing ideals. We’re going to focus more on the clothing aspect and how fashion trends in Europe made their way through the Spanish into Philippine costume and daily wear. Let’s start where it all began.
When the Spanish colonised the Filipino islands the Philippines as one nation didn’t exist as the Filipino people of the time were separate and there were many different indigenous communities with their own unique clothing traditions throughout the islands, The Spanish first encountered the Visayans. The Visayan clothing is where a majority of later Spanish inspired Filipino dress would evolve from and later the Tagalog regionals as well. These communities already wore blouses which the Visayans called this bayú/barú and in Tagalog the baro. In addition, both wore a rectangular piece of thick woven fabric around their legs, in Visayan it was known as patadlog/patadyong and in Tagalog the tapis which is the version that continued to stay in the traditional fashions even till this day, their clothing was also decorated and sewn with real gold.
The Spanish introduced a new style of dress that fit their ideas of modesty, the blouse was now called a camisa, the sleeves were longer and it opened in the front and a skirt called Saya, the tapis was worn again this time over the Saya towards the late 1600s. Around this time women of half-Chinese and half-Spanish descent were called mestizas and so the style of dress they wore was dubbed the Traje de Mestiza which translates to ‘outfit of the half-Chinese or half-Spanish female’.
In Europe the fichu was worn (also called the neckerchief or handkerchief), it was a square piece of cloth folded into a triangle wrapped around the chest and waist or pinned in the front for modesty and warmth, it was also used as a decorative piece/accessory. Both upper and lower class wore it, upper class women would wear more sheer, delicate fabrics that were white, and lower-class women would wear thicker fabrics in darker shades to hide dirt. Towards the end of the 1700 Filipinos began to wear what resembled the fichu but was given the Spanish name of pañuelo which translates to handkerchief.
The European waistline was raised and sat just under the bosom in reflection of Greek fashion, this silhouette was now known as the ’empire waistline’ and had a more straight-lined skirt. This made its way to Filipino fashion and the Saya and tapis were worn higher and the Saya also became narrower, Filipinos rejected European standards of constrictive fashion, such as the corset, and instead opted for different methods of modesty. One such example is the use of the Tapa Pecho, a piece of high-density fabric sewin into the camisa to cover the bosom as the camisa were made from Piña cloth which is breathable but translucent, ideal for the warm weather.
The European silhouette of the skirt had become massive, in a sort of bell like shape, a crinoline was used to support the skirt and hold its shape, the crinoline being made of a stiff fabric consisting of horsehair and cotton/linen. Pagoda sleeves -which were inspired by Japanese pagoda architecture- were fashionable at the time, they were large and open allowing for more movement. Yet again, this fashion made its way to the filipines and resulted in the Saya becoming larger. Its shape was known as ‘cupola’ in reference to its shape being similar to an inverted cup. To achieve the ‘cupola’ shape Filipino women wore “enaguas” which consisted of one or more layers of fabric and had a band of manila hemp (which is a type of stiff hand-woven fibre which is harvested from the abaca plants leaf-stems) at the bottom to hold its shape. This is yet again an example Filipino woman refusing to wear European rigid fashion contraptions such as the corset and crinoline. Pagoda sleeves made their way over too and this was perfect for the hot climate as the open and loose sleeve style allowed for more breathability and movement.
The bustle skirt became popular in Europe, most of the skirts volume was centred towards the back and the shape was likened to that of a horse’s rear, the crinoline changed from the bell shape to more like a lobster’s tail which is were it gained its new name, the lobster bustle. Again, Filipino dislike for rigid under structures was replaced by gathering more waist fabric in the back of the Saya to give it volume and sinamay fabric around the hem to help hold the Saya’s shape. Sinamay is another beautiful example of Filipino ingenuity by using indigenous materials to achieve the same effect as European silhouettes without the need for the rigid contraptions.
In the late Victorian era, the ‘leg of mutton’ sleeve shape was incredibly popular, the top of the sleeve was balloon like and tapered down towards the wrist, similar to the way a leg of mutton looks, hence the name. This was highly favoured by Filipinos and the camisas sleeve became wider and starch was used to help the thin Piña fabric hold its ballooned shape.
The Spanish regime ended in 1898 and the Americans took over, however Americans still took influence from European fashion trends and so a few still made it over, first being the Edwardian/Gibson girl look and morning glory skirt. The Gibson girl was characterised by a large ‘pigeon’ chest which was achieved through the S bend corset and lots of padding and fabric, paired with a slender skirt that flared out at the bottom with a train, similar to that of the morning glory flower in which it was named after. The S bend corset and excessive padding was again not favoured but the camisa and pañuelo became larger giving a similar top heave look, the skirt style was adopted quickly which resulted in the serpentina skirt shape, the Saya was again lined with sinamay to help create and hold its shape.
This would be the last of Europe’s direct fashion influence on the Philippines as new trends would be created and set by American influence, and soon the Philippines would have full independence in 1946. This information was sourced from the amazing scenographer Gino Gonzales and his works over on NCCA PCEP YouTube channel and the Dressed: the history of fashion podcast. And other sites such as Wikipedia and Renacimiento Manila on Facebook.
Hello, I'm Megan Dowthwaite, a graphic designer and content creator. I'm fascinated by the world and its various cultures main ones being Korea, the Philippines and other Asian countries, I specifically focus on fashion, art, history and the ecosystem. I love to learn and share my new found knowledge with others.